Le Divorce

By Ewan McDonald

By EWAN MCDONALD

(Herald rating: * * * )

Merchant Ivory venture into a tricky neighbourhood with Le Divorce, based on a novel by Diane Johnson and, coincidentally, a story about an American in Paris named Isabel -- to be specific, a confident Californian on her first trip to Paris.

Isabel (Kate Hudson) is on her way to the City of Light to visit her pregnant poet-sister, Roxanne (Naomi Watts), whose French painter-husband has left her for an affair with another woman. Within a year Isabel is also in bed with a bohemian musician and a married, right-wing TV pundit, Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte), who happens to be her sister's father-in-law.

She has also hooked up with a famous expat novelist (Glenn Close), former lover of the same man, who will tell her that his affairs always begin with the gift of a bag and are ended with the gift of a scarf.

Like so many Merchant Ivory movies, this is not so much a story as the story of how people behave. It is an essay about the differences between American and French attitudes to ... well, everything from marriage to art and food.

For instance, when Edgar's sister, Suzanne de Persand (Magnifique! Welcome back the incomparable Leslie Caron), finds out about the affair, Suzanne's take on the situation is: it is bad enough that her son has allowed love to ruin his marriage, but worse that Isabel has fallen for her ageing brother's tired old lines.

Americans have no idea how to conduct affairs, and do not realise they are intended to be temporary. When one ends, they get tragic.

Apart from Caron, watch for cameos from Stockard Channing, as the upfront American mom of Isabel and Roxanne; Stephen Fry, a Christie's executive explaining how the international art market works; and, a lesser light, Matthew Modine, Isabel's cast-off husband, out of his depth (or height) on the Eiffel Tower.

Call it a romantic comedy (and, sorry, last week's aggrieved letter writer, but Secretary is in no way a romantic comedy, and nor are its messages funny) because it's about relationships and has an almost-happy ending but it is clearly one of the trio's lesser offerings.

So far as the DVD goes, you'll have to fiddle with those 4:3 and 6 7/8: 4 3/5 aspect ratio things to get a reasonable view. We settled for 16:9 TV. There are no bonus features.

DVD, video rental: 28 March

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